On Poetry, Imagery and Blasphemy

I was raised Catholic. I know. Shocker. I definitely don’t mention it at every opportunity. Culturally, I’m still really Catholic, but I stopped practising a few years back. The reasons why are lengthy and complex and painful and really not worth going into here. But I was raised on incense and the mass and Latin prayers and an innumerable number of saints and rolling my eyes at Protestants.
I love Catholic imagery. I love the many layered symbolism in colours and flowers and candles. It’s so rich and deep and perfect for poetic inspiration. However, since I am still in the midst of writing a deeply egocentric imperialist with a slight messianic streak…I feel like I’m flirting with blasphemy. Technically, being a non-believer and all, it shouldn’t matter. But you can’t unpick a childhood of worship instantly. So I still have a great deal of respect/reverence for the faith that made me who I am today. It’s not easy to casually disrespect something that part of me still holds sacred.

So, when I did approach mixing and matching (Western European) Catholic imagery and cultural references, I tried to be a little more circumspect. I tried to approach it as blasphemy and draw out some kind of critique from there.

For instance, in Lily and Marigold, the faerie queen you summon is supposed to be reminiscent of Our Lady of Lourdes. She appears next to a stream, surrounded in flowers and dressed in white. The flowers in the poem were mostly chosen invoke/reference Marian mythologies. Lilies symbolise St Mary’s purity, roses her beauty. I heard a legend once that when the holy family fled into Egypt they were attacked by bandits. When the bandits tried to steal Mary’s gold, all they got were the yellow orange flowers, hence marigold. Iris flowers symbolise her sorrow. Foxgloves are just there to remind you that the faerie queen’s poisonous and not to be trusted. (The title, Lily and Marigold is therefore, in effect, sorrow and wealth. Which is kind of on the nose, but you know.)

notre_dame_de_lourdes

For a character to fashion herself, and the ritual to summon her, so closely after the most powerful woman in Catholic canon, that speaks to a level of arrogance, no? In courting blasphemy, in fashioning a villain after the literal queen of heaven, I want to draw attention to the level of egocentrism, the excessive pride of said character.

I seldom write about men, so it is unlikely that I will be drawing direct parallels to Jesus any time soon. But I fully intend to keep playing with blasphemy, to skirting as its edges. I will do so from a place of love and respect for the faith/cultural tradition I grew up in, the faith most of my family still practice. But there is too much symbolism there, too many ways to infer and imply meaning, too much history to call upon and reference, for me to forgo it entirely.

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Poem: Outcast

First published on Patreon on 2nd July

I love this poem. I don’t know if it counts as my best work, but I love it. It’s very queer, because of course it is, and references Christianity, because of course it does. I love it because whilst it’s about love, about loving while queer, it’s not about romantic love. I love it because it’s about loneliness and loss and hope. I love it because it makes me a little uncomfortable.

My heart has slowed
Well
Stopped
Remembering to move muscle
Expand lungs
Shed skin
It’s a lot when my mind is fixed on
Xem
On the way xir breath is
Just a little too even
And xie blinks every
8.2
No
8.3 seconds
On the way xie
Stands out
Blends in
Pink painted lips and
Biker boots and
Poppy red sequins
Xir hair is grey
A perfectly imperfect buzzcut
It smells like cheap shampoo
And almond oil
So unlike Mae’s
Impossibly black
Rose scented
Corkscrew curls

It works in a city like this
It works to remind me of home
Where the winds peel you a new skin
In red or gold or copper
Where the sky is
The grey-black of wet concrete
Where rain falls but once a year
And persimmons come thick in wintertime
We knew a hundred words for dry
A thousand for hot

I start breathing again
Light and slightly asymmetric
Each exhale around
0.6 seconds different
To the last
The devil is in the details
So to speak
Xie hasn’t learned the details
I want to teach xem the details
To learn how xie was born
And died
And cast out
And born
To tell xem how they clipped my wings
Crammed my soul into a
Wattle and daub shell
And expected me to survive the cold

It has been an age since the last
Since the Trials
Since the hunt and the
Fear and the
Freezing water
Since those of us with
Perfect dark eyes
And blink quick steps
And smiles fit to steal a soul
Mae was confident
Careless
Taught me how to survive on more
Than the memory of
Basalt and sulphur
Refused to learn
How to dream of fire
Without smelling like smoke

I make myself known
In the way that we know
I hope we’re a we
I am seldom wrong about kith
But it has been so long
Xie sees me
And turns to look
Not bothering to smile
The air shimmers around xem
Tastes like acid rain and black ash
We are a we
I’m sure of it
Xir dark
Wide
Unremarkable face
Is shuttered closed
Displaying nothing
But I am older
I can see xir
Heartbeat stutter to nothing
Smell the salt spray
Suspicion and hope
And I breathe a smile
Xie is careful
Fearful
So might just survive
Live long enough that we can become
Kin
Or something like it
Xie is silent
And still
Like I am still

I hold out my hand
“Hi,
I go by Chi these days,
How long since you were left?”